2022 is such a great year for middle grade fantasy! Most of the titles coming up this year are so good and NURA is no exception.
Starting off at a small rural village in Pakistan, NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE follows young Nura who's forced to work in Mica Mines. She owes it to her family, who are very poor and can't afford to feed every stomach. But one day, as Nura digs a little too deep, the mine collapses and 5 children are lost. In search of her best friend, Faisal, Nura accidentally ventures into a mysterious world of trickster jinn and is treate like a celebrity. But will her fame last long or are the jinn just like the evil tricksters in her mother's stories?
This is a book that heavily focuses on child labour and the importance of education. Nura, as a character, goes from ignoring education—her family can't afford to pay her fees—to soon realising it's greatness. There are also instances where Nura misses her family greatly and struggles to keep them close. Although it wasn't as highlighted as child labour, greed also plays a very significant role in the plot.
I think the author did a very wonderful job on shining light on struggles that are lesser known and also made this a book appropriate for children. This was dark but just the right amount of it so it appeals for younger audiences. Overall, this is a very important read and I enjoyed it! If you're looking for something that's a fast read but is also heavy on themes, this just might be the perfect book for you.
This book is so cool! The premise is very interesting and the writing is great. It is a great adventure story for children and tweens.
This is an entertaining story with endearing and memorable characters that at its core is about forced child labour.
Nura is a strong-willed and big-hearted girl of twelve years old who has already been working for several years. She mines for the mineral called mica, a dangerous job for anyone (having lost her own father to it) let alone for children.
Nura digs for the rumour of a treasure that she hopes will pull her family out of poverty, instead she finds herself in the dazzling and dangerous world of djinn.
Her determination to keep digging for more, ultimately out of love for her family, winds her up in another realm, in a worse situation, forced into a lifetime of labour.
The jinn are tricksy, but Nura is witty. Her fierce loving nature makes her determined to get out of the trap that was set for her and she’s got her loyal best friend by her side.
I loved the lessons that Nura gradually learnt through her journey. The importance she placed on material gains, although her motivations were completely understandable, come into question when she is faced with an extreme example of this gone wrong. By the end of the story, Nura comes to value education in a way she hadn’t before and I thought this was a beautifully woven in message.
One of my favourite scenes was a beautiful moment when Nura recites Ayat Al-Kursi as a means of protection. It felt so nice to see this in a children’s book. I also really liked how Eid Al-Adha and the run up to the special day played an important role in the storyline.
This was an enjoyable and well written story aimed at children but that I think many would enjoy. It has an uplifting and hopeful message while shining a light on such an overlooked and difficult topic. I was shocked to read in the author’s note that an estimated 160 million children worldwide are victim to child labour - and that almost half of those are between the ages of five and eleven.
I really loved the premise and setting for this book. The wondrous world of the "Immortal Palace" was really excellent and so vividly brought to life. And the premise, of a girl falling into the jinn world, was really unique and fun as well. I also thought it was interesting that the book touched on the horrors of child labor, and appreciated the author's note at the end in that regard.
I felt like the book could have stood to be a bit longer so the storylines and characters could have been more developed.
Blown away by the premise, characters, and execution. Nura and the Immortal Palace is a timeless tale of one girl's journey to understanding the truth about greed. I adored the setting (so few books are set in Pakistan) and also the jinn realm that the characters venture to was so alive and bewitching. Can't wait to read more books by M.T. Khan!
The middle grade books releasing this year are just too good! Reading NURA felt like a warm hug, the plot was amazing and so were the characters, I liked the fact that is highlighted important issues such as child labour. Cannot wait to read more books by M.T. Khan!
Nura's journey from the dangerous and unforgiving mica mines of her home town to a fabulous, palatial hotel on another plane run by jinn is fantastical, colorful and fraught with twists that catch her and the reader off balance every time it appears there may be path to escape. There's also a delicious infusion of Pakastani culture and foods that feel both exotic and like home.
But as otherworldly as this tale is, it's grounded in truths about oppression, othering and the overwhelming message that people who are ruled by systems that pit them against each other can never be free until the illusion of glamour and success are destroyed.
For young readers, some of these lessons may not rise above the exquisite actions, rich fantasy and mythology Khan lays out, and that's okay; the ride is exciting and full of dangerous escapes. But the author does her due diligence to make sure that more advanced readers cannot miss these messages, as Nura and her best friend Faisal show compassion and resist temptation to do what humans and jinn have never accomplished before.
This 272 page unapologetically Muslim MG tale takes on some heavy concepts: child labor, jinn, education, and gulab jamun- I mean greed. Through the eyes of feisty, determined, clever, and strong Nura, though, the trials of life and society are never without hope, a sense of adventure, and good intentions. The characters are likeable, the Islam wonderfully present and often centered, the social commentary remarkable, but the framing for me, made it a bit of a struggle to read at times. It is set up like Alice in Wonderland or even Silverworld, where the characters living in a real world stumble in to an alternate reality, and thus the world building occurs in real-time so to speak. The reader has no idea what is going on until it is happening, no clue what the rules and constraints of the fantasy world are until some detail is needed to help or hinder the protagonist, and personally I struggle with this wandering style of narrative. I have mentioned before that as a child I really never read fantasy, and I think this is why, I need the context to ground the story so that I might lose myself in the adventure at hand. If you are fine with this framing and at ease with Islamic jinn fantasy, then this book will be a lot of fun. If you find fantasy "shirk-y" do know that Ayat ul Kursi is used to save the day, but that there is a lot of imagination regarding the beings made of smokeless fire, a casino is present along with dancing, indentured labor, and the fear of death.
The book releases in July 2022, and as always pre-orders help show support for books, authors, and the OWN voice content that they entail, so if this book seems like a good fit for your 3rd/4th grade reader and up you can pre-order it here: https://amzn.to/3MVvxQo
Nura lives in the small industrial Pakistani city of Meerabagh. Her father has passed away and her family is too poor to send her to school, instead she must work so that her siblings might eat. Her mother works in a sweat factory and Nura in the mica mines. The illegal child labor and cruel owners provide less than ideal working conditions for the children forced to mine the sparkly mineral. Nura's mom wants her to quit, Nura herself doesn't enjoy the torment, but somehow she takes it on as a challenge to be the best miner in Meerabagh, pushing her self deeper into the fragile tunnels. With bestfriend Faisal always warning her about going too far, she decides to finally listen to her mother and quit the mines, but not after she makes one final effort to find the rumored "Demon's Tongue" treasure. She digs too deep though, and the mines collapse, children are lost, Faisal among them. Determined to find her best friend, she plunges in to the fallen mines and finds herself on the pink waters outside the luxurious jinn hotel, the Sijj Palace.
Nura has always been warned about jinn, qareens and the tricks they play on humans, but when a life of luxury is dangled in front of her, Nura pushes her better judgement aside to enjoy a life she has always dreamed of. It isn't just the food and clothes, but it is the respect and honor she is given as she wins a food eating contest, gambles in a casino, and gets decorated for a dance party. It all comes crashing down however, when in an attempt to impress the painted boy, she cuts off his horn. Status revoked, Nura is sent to the labor force, where she will remain for eternity, imprisoned and at the disposal of the hotel. What is more, after the three day festival of Eid al Adha, her memories of her life before coming to the jinn world will disappear. Nura is determined to escape, but nothing in the jinn world is easy, and for a 12 year old girl with fading memories, this might be more than she can endure.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that Nura is unapologetically Muslim. Even though she is poor, there is time spent on the pages detailing the feeling of Eid al Adha, the familial togetherness and community festiveness even if it all is meager, it still has value. I also really like the relationship between Nura and Faisal. They drive each other crazy and have nothing in common, but they never give up on each other. They act like siblings, tolerating each other's annoying quirks, while never wavering on their concern and worry for one another. It is sweet and well fleshed out.
The threading of education was also done well. Nura finds the idea of school repulsive, but it grows and changes as the obstacle of being illiterate slows her down, and ultimately she changes her mind. The growth arc is subtle, but powerful, and Nura's intellect, cleverness, and ingenuity is never dimmed as a result of her lack of formal schooling.
The characters, even the "bad" ones are given some depth and sympathetic qualities, and Nura has to recognize some of her own flaws and choices as she journeys through the book. Desi culture is present primarily in food and clothing, but it adds depth to the story and flavor to the experience.
The food eating competition, however, didn't really impress me. I get that it was to flesh out the jinn world and show Nura's smartness, but I thought the jinn in the water were eaten, only to have them reappearing, and the founding premise is that jinn are tricksters, so to have Nura tricking them seems to blur the lines of integrity. Also the bird was critical, and then never seen again, the scene just didn't read as tightly edited or as clear as it should have in my opinion.
I didn't love that a casino either, or that it was so central to the story. If it would have said something about gambling being haram and jinn being free to do what they want, like it did when discussing how Eid is celebrated by non practicing jinn, I might have not been as bothered, but it seems an odd setting nonetheless, for a middle grade book.
Gambling, child labor, indentured servitude, magic, fantasy, jinn, destruction, bombing, fire, death, fear.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think this could work as a middle school book club read. It is a little below level and age, but there is a lot to discuss and connect with, that I think it would be a lot of fun. Our school is ok with fantasy reads, so for us it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf in a classroom, school library, and possibly (depending on your views of fantasy) a home library.
Can't declare enough how much fun and beautiful this book is. It really does feel like a Studio Ghibli film mixed with an adventure book. With characters that are equally flawed as they are courageous, and a setting that shines and entices, NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE feels timeless, for any and all ages. Loved it and can't wait to tell everyone to buy it.
I really enjoyed reading this book, it was a great introduction to this world. I was invested from the start to finish, the characters were wonderfully done. It was a really well done fantasy novel that works wonderfully with the author's heritage.
Thank you NetGalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review!
Considering that I DEVOURED this book at school in 3 BUSY periods, I’m gonna say I LOVE it. Nura is a strong fiery twelve year old with so many opinions and so much energy; I love her so much! I love Faisal and Nura’s friendship!! Their personalities are quite different, and they complement each other so well.
This reminded me of why I love middle grade books so much. The writing style, inner dialogue, imagery (especially food!) is just so refreshing and exciting to me. I would automatically recommend this to someone.
Nura and the immortal palace was an incredible middle grade fantasy novel! I loved reading about Nura and Faizal. This book was so good and I’d love to interview M.T.Khan for pop-culturalist.com!!
"If anyone says that they work for passion or world peace and not the delicious food on their plate, they're lying."
Where do I even start? This book is quite possibly the perfect concoction of every element I love in a story. I cannot help but wish that younger me—Kurdish and Muslim me—could pick up this book and read it for the first time again. It feels both like coming home and entering into a whole new world.
The atmosphere is cozy and daunting, colourful yet dark + explores family, faith, and fear (of jinn). It feels like the stories we all remember being told as a child... the same stories that linger and creep in our shadows as we get older. I am so, so excited for people to read this.
I received an eARC from NetGalley. All opinions are my own. And my honest opinion is that you need to pre-order this book immediately.
Nura and The Immortal Palace is an imaginative story that blends culture and myths with important world issues in a unique way, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Reading this is like “plunging into a strange folktale”.
The story explores important issues such as child labour, exploitation, and class in a way that is understandable to a younger audience without undermining their intelligence. Nura and The Immortal Palace is great for educating young audiences on these issues as well as expanding their worldview. The story takes place in a setting and culture that is often overlooked in popular childrens and middle grade fantasy. Information to help the reader understand the culture is blended in with the fantastical plot in a clever way.
The characters are complex and very human, they make mistakes and have many faults, particularly Nura, but they learn from these mistakes and work to fix them. Nura and The Immortal Palace is a great story for people of all ages to learn about important issues in a fun and magical story.
The ARC of this upcoming Muslim fantasy book made me smile so much!!
Genre: MG fantasy
Islamic Screening- music, magic, jinn, jinn possession, building a magical bomb, arson, dancing (but all done in a kid carnival-like way) ,gambling/casino-I wish it was an arcade instead.
Nura’s dad has died and to help her mama out, she works at the mica mine instead of going to school. When her mom insists she stop, Nura knows its her last day mining, and tries one last time to find the “Demon’s Tongue”, a long lost treasure in the mines. But when her friend disappears saving her from a collapsing tunnel, Nura is frantic. In her search for him, she stumbles on a secret Jinn world. There, she must compete against the Jinn using only her wits, and if she isn’t out of the Jinn world by Eid Al-Adha’s third day, she will be stuck as a servant in that world forever!!!
Islam is included a lot- the islamic holiday being Eid al-Adha is a time for meat given out to the poor and celebrations , azan, maghreb prayer, muslim names, thank God for dinner and duaas for her dad in heaven, Quran, when morning prayer is skipped by adel his mom credits it to being devil whispers/the qareen-your jinn companion that is a trickster, Ayatul kursi being protection from jinn (translated and read aloud!), Qurbani, story of Prophet Ibrahim and the sacrifice of his son, halal meat, Ramadan, special Eid prayer, SubhanAllah.
Desi touches include setting of Pakistan, lots of sweets like gulab jamun, Urdu, a bhangra dance competition, kurta and other desi clothing, and more.
The book was adorable, fun to read, and felt authentic to Desi Muslims (jinn fantasy elements but I felt it pretty clean).
The story is well written, kid friendly, and engaging. Some plot points felt a little weak, and some events far-fetched, but it tied together neatly in the end and it is kid fantasy after all!
Themes of the book include education, the exploitation of kids in poor areas, child labor, mining, family, friendship, and poverty. The author’s note about child labor/cheap products was wonderful and educating!
Def an interesting read!
I read this masterpiece in one sitting. So ensnared in this world, where nothing is as it seems, I couldn't leave this story until I knew Nura and the other trapped children were safe. And are they ever really safe? I won't give that part away.
The story starts off with Nura and other children, working the mines for mica--forced into child labor due to poverty and limited resources. Nura longs for more--more money and security for her family. When digging leads her through a portal into another world, Nura comes face to face with a mirror image of herself--and a mirror image of the life she's lead in the real world--one where the rich create systems that leave the working class and poor pitted against each other to survive.
This story took my heart on a journey. Where it swelled for Nura's small wins and sank during her setbacks. This story can be read again and again, as there are threads of symbolism woven throughout that will force readers to take another look at the errors of our own current caste system.